Are you ready for Blinky Bill? The crowd erupted into a rapturous din. This was it. The official launch event for MUZE after it’s short and sweet premiere in December 2018 and Blinky Bill was the headliner. There were already signs that this was going to be a big event. Advance tickets sold out on Mookh 2 days prior to the big day. Gate tickets later went up on Saturday, and sold out before you could even blink.
Like a typical Kenyan, I arrived at MUZE at 11 pm on that Saturday 26th January. Found a long queue of stylish Nairobians outside the door, and a burly male bouncer controlling the incoming traffic. They were either buying or confirming their tickets as their gate pass. You could smell the excitement off of them.
I understood why they were so eager. This was Blinky BIll’s first live concert of 2019. He is hot cake now, a world-touring artist from London to Paris. And everyone has been talking about his new solo album Everyone’s Just Winging It & Other Fly Tales . This would be his third live performance in Nairobi since the release of his critically acclaimed debut album in October 2018. So if you didn’t catch him at Blankets and Wine’s 10th anniversary or Live at the Elephant, this was the moment.
Before the main event, Master Jinku warmed up us. The NuNairobi music collective EA Wave lent out one of their experimental DJs for this special gig. He played a truly eclectic set, jumping from one genre to another in a style not many Nairobians are used to. But the bouncy beats got a few party starters to warm up the slippery dancefloor.
By midnight, MUZE club was packed, way more than their premiere night. The air was heavy with sweat and anticipation. When will the show start? The question seemed to float between anxious bodies. Some gave in to the impatience and left the scene while the true fans waited for what they had come for.
One of the club’s owners, Matt Swallow, finally took over the microphone at 12.30pm. “Are you ready for Blinky Bill?” The excited crowd huddled next to the low stage in response. The cool kid with the unmistakable beard and signature hat appeared on stage to frenzied applause. He took his position on the left side and started toying on his Machine. I could barely see him since I was at the back and there were way too many tall people in front. So I contended with seeing only his producer hat and fancy beard.
It was a slow introduction where he let the experimental beats do the talking for him. Has the show started yet? You would have asked yourself. But after the second lo-fi song, he got out of his zone and gave us Atenshan. How are you feeling Nairobi? He spoke into his vintage mic. This is when the real fun began.
From my experience, music is 90% bass. And 10% more bass. Once you’ve tasted MUZE’s potent Funktion One speakers, all other sound systems fail your ears. And they were made for this particular show. The Keycutters brought the stage alive with their horns, keyboard and bass guitar. Now, this is music, your ears sighed in relief.
And if the band’s name sounds familiar, it was borrowed from Blinky’s 2017 debut EP We Cut Keys While You Wait.
But this 2019 show was about his debut album which we had waited for and finallyreceived. His die-hard fans, well positioned in the front row, went wild when he performed the upbeat Don’t Worry. It must be the bass. And we effortlessly sang the famous line “Si ni warui... kwani hujui... tutawaroga ka waganga wa Kitui”. Paying homage to the pioneering Kenyan hip-hop duo K South.
As if everyone had done their homework, we sang along to most of his new songs. Chanted the vowel sounds in Winner like a bunch of nursery school kids. A fan favourite Mungu Halali was necessary. And Blinky invited on stage one of the collaborators, Lisa Oduor, who is one of the best Kenyan vocalists we have. Even he said it. Straight from her Berklee Music school stint, she showed off those honey vocals she’s been keeping away from us for the last few years.
Meanwhile, a personal favourite Happy got me feeling all giddy inside. Everyone wants to feel joy inside, so get loose tonight. Which was the memo of the night.
In between his tracks, Blinky would talk to his front-row fans like they were old friends. What song would you like to listen to next? He then invited his good friend Shappaman, the NuNairobi rapper who had performed on the same stage that Thursday night during Backyard Bass. Together, they executed an energetic performance of Wacha Maneno (wacha wacha wacha wacha we wacha). It’s one of the 6 experimental tracks from his 2017 EP that preceded the album. And introduced us to Blinky Bill’s unique genre-bending music. Which includes electronic, hip-hop, funk and bass as he weaves between English and Swahili lyrics.
Like a clever performer, he saved the best for last. Atenshan always grabs the crowd with its Afrobeats and easy-to-sing-along-to hook. And the bright horns came alive again to accompany the party jam. But we couldn’t let him leave until he gave us a taste of Just A Band’s timeless music. After all, it is through the game-changing Kenyan music collective that Blinky became Blinky.
Even though they are on a hiatus, Blinky carries their alternative music torch by performing classics at his Nairobi shows. From the uber-cool Hahe to the funky Huff+Puff that got even those who were not dancing to shake a little something.
The closing song was a special one. Just imagine an acoustic version of Probably For Lovers. Together, we sang like a church choir with every fibre of our hearts to our imaginary lovers. It was probably the perfect ending to the one and a half hour set.
As Blinky greeted his avid fans, Allan Strange took over the LED lit stage. The MUZE resident DJ turned the uptown club into a full-blown house party. Parties of satisfied attendees began to stream out while the true EDM lovers stayed back to dance until 4 am. Either way, the MUZE launch concert introduced this new club in Westlands to the urban cosmopolitan Nairobian crowd. It exposed them to its dance different music vibes and powerful audio-visual system that makes other clubs in Nairobi bow their heads in shame.
This grandiose concert also allowed Blinky Bill’s fans to connect with their new favourite solo Kenyan artist. And fall in love with his electrifying live band. The love they received that night was unmatched.
As they left MUZE, new and established fans picked up physical copies of his revolutionary Kenyan album. I would buy the vinyl record just so I could hang the artistic album cover by Zack Adell in my room. There were also a couple of denim jackets on sale with Bill Selanga’s iconic face painted on the back. A gift to take home and remember this game-changing night.
If I was Blinky Bill, I would have every reason to be Happy.
Photos courtesy of MUZE (https://www.facebook.com/pg/muzeclub/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2343525365879537)